Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Why not the Rules Cyclopedia, Jeff?

You need a copy.  Seriously.The Red-Haired Maniac asked this very legitimate question in a comment to my previous gameblog entry. If I'm going to build my own sweet retro-awesome campaign setting, why not use the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, the Cadillac of D&D editions? Why go with the now-obscure '81 Basic and Expert rules?

First of all, let me say that the RC kicks ass. It's the slickest incarnation of the Old Game and arguably the best "one book is all you need" rpg ever published. I think every serious gamer should own a copy. My own copy of the RC would be among the last items I would part with if I had to sell off my game collection to buy medicine for my daughter or something like that.

But it has a lot of stuff in it that I don't need. Stuff like the weapon mastery rules or the skills system. Don't get me wrong, the weapon mastery rules are wicked cool. But they also strike me as unnecessary to the essential D&D experience. And call me backwards-thinking, but the more I play D&D with a skill system the more I am convinced that bolting skills on after the fact was a bad idea. Hell, the 3.5 skill system is cumbersome enough that the prospect of new skill points almost makes me not want to go up a level. How crazy is that?

Then there are things like the proto-prestige classes and the mystic class. I just don't need that stuff junking up my campaign world or the rules I use with it. I mean, if a player approaches me and really wants to make his 9th level fighter into an Avenger I'm hardly the type to say no. But I'm not going to build my campaign around every half-baked class some power-mad player might want levels in. For that matter, if a player wanted to play a 1st or 2nd edition AD&D class/race combo I'm not going to turn up my nose. My campaign setting isn't meant to limit and define the PCs, it's meant to limit and define the game board those PCs move on. The point of the Brythunian Age is to use simple building blocks and my own extrapolations to construct my own personal vision of a D&D setting. The Rules Cyclopedia is already pre-loaded with a more-than-implied setting that I don't want influencing my work. No Mystara in my peanut butter, thank you.

On the other hand, the 1981 Basic and Expert rules have everything I need. Seven classes going no higher than 14th level, three alignments, 106 spells, a few dozen magic items, 28 pages of monsters. Some hard rules and a lot of guidelines and suggestions. Anything else I want can be invented or swiped. Maybe from the RC, who knows? What I do know is this: nearly everything I've purchased for D&D has been an expansion of some sort. Bigger, better, more of everything. Personally, I think there's still plenty to be done with those two 64-page softbounds. I know I'm letting nostalgia color my perceptions, but I also know that it is true when I say this: those booklets are the keys to unlocking a thousand ass-kicking adventures. I don't need anything else to play D&D.

12 comments:

  1. ligedog1:54 PM

    Very inspiring. After reading your last post I went and looked for my copies. Unfortunately they seem to be still cluttering up my parents garage. I looked at my Metzger books last night though and compared and contrasted to the 1st Ed. DMG. Conclusion: I never really played AD&D just D&D with the addition of AD&D classes and other bits of color. I'm not even sure how I would of been able to figure out the game on my own from the hardbacks.

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  2. ligedog, I don't think I've ever actually played 1st edition AD&D. Whenever Mr. Gygax's rules seemed too confusing my group always fell back to lessons learned from the Basic & Expert rules. To this day I'm not sure if I understand AD&D initiative.

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  3. Anonymous9:46 PM

    another good reason to use the '81 basic & expert instead of the cyclopedia, is that that the '81 rules have that amazing erol otus cover art!! which I'm sure is a big part of what jeff's going for in his campaign, aesthetically.

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  4. I think you got into the typical:
    "Only the LBBS" mood.
    Honestly, I think sooner or later you will long for mass combat, siege, strongholds, manorial income and the like.

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  5. I have to agree with Jeff here. Heck, in 1980, all we had was the original basic "Blue Book", and we extrapolated stuff because the book store in my small town in Arkansas wouldn't see a hardcover AD&D book for another six months.

    And yet, when the 1981 books came out, we grabbed those fast, even though we already had AD&D.

    On the other hand, I always wanted to play in a campaign that fleshed out the setting area from the ol' blue book.

    AD&D and Basic/Expert have completely different feels -- B/E is for DMs who make it up as they go, and just use the game system to keep score. AD&D was for DMs who want to play the same game as a bunch of other AD&D DMs (although eventually we all had house rules).

    As for the WarMachine engine, and the manor system in the Companion set (and in Rules Cyclopedia), you really don't need it. And I'm not sure Jeff wants a campaign focusing on civilizing the wilderness -- that's for NPCs, while the PCs focus on killing the stuff on the front line :)

    It's neat seeing Jeff go back to the basics -- same reason I've been toying with Aldreth (that's the infamous fantasy setting using Classic Traveller mechanics). At some point, you get tired of all the junk people tell you "has to be done" before you can game. Jeff's saying "Just ******* game already", and I respect that a lot. And I'm the guy who writes 200-page campaign primers for fantasy games.

    I've run D&D, AD&D (1st/2nd), D&D 3.0/3.5, Fantasy Hero, Fantasy Champions, Pendragon, Ars Magica, and some stuff that mixed things up between them. And today, I'm at the point where I really don't want to do a bunch of stuff to prepare a campaign mechanics wise. I've got the setting in my head, and I want my mechanics simple. Jeff might just be on to a big nostalgia winner.

    On the other hand, if I could get Arcana Evolved and Iron Heroes to fit together the right way...

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  6. RC is certainly a tour-de-force in gaming rules.

    It was overlooked because of when it was released.

    Its beautiful game, over which Id run DND3.5

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  7. The last time I donned the mantle of Dungeon Master (which was about a year ago), I opted to pass on the RC for many of the same reasons you cite, and the next time I don the mantle, I'll be passing on the RC again for the same reasons. It's a wonderful book but I only need about 15% of the RC to make a 100% complete D&D campaign.

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  8. ... and the more and more I see regular gaming characterized as "nostalgic" and "retro" the more and more I think I just need to abandon the public side of the hobby altogether, go flip burgers, and game in my free time. It's like a punch to the solar plexus, every single time. :(

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  9. "I think you got into the typical:
    "Only the LBBS" mood.
    Honestly, I think sooner or later you will long for mass combat, siege, strongholds, manorial income and the like."

    I feel absolutely empowered to cherrypick whatever I want as the game develops. If I need to go to the RC, or AD&D, or to Arduin or a non-D&D ruleset to acheive an effect, I'm going to do it. But I want a nice clean base to build from.

    "On the other hand, if I could get Arcana Evolved and Iron Heroes to fit together the right way... "

    I hear you man. Magisters and Berserkers against the night! Also, I didn't know you had a copy of Aldreth. What's that like?

    "another good reason to use the '81 basic & expert instead of the cyclopedia, is that that the '81 rules have that amazing erol otus cover art!! which I'm sure is a big part of what jeff's going for in his campaign, aesthetically."

    Absolutely true! I didn't mention that before because I assumed all my regular readers would totally get that point. IMHO, the Otus cover art is the visual distillation of everything right about D&D. Meanwhile, the RC shows what appears to me to be an adventurer fleeing from a dragon. Who greenlit that cover?

    "... and the more and more I see regular gaming characterized as "nostalgic" and "retro" the more and more I think I just need to abandon the public side of the hobby altogether, go flip burgers, and game in my free time. It's like a punch to the solar plexus, every single time. :( "

    Sorry to bring you down, man! I just don't have the egomania to declare what I like the "One True Way", so I call it Old School or Retro or whatever. Settembrini calles it Adventure Gaming. Maybe I should start using that. No "has been" connotation there.

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  10. Sorry to bring you down, man!

    It's not your fault; it's widespread in certain Net circles. Fortunately, I've not yet encountered it in my actual gaming life, and this helps me keep my bearings. Around here (and around everywhere I've gamed) there's nothing ... label-worthy, I suppose ... about starting up a Basic D&D campaign.

    I just don't have the egomania to declare what I like the "One True Way"

    I hope very sincerely that you don't think I was recommending (or expecting, or desiring) any kind of one-true-way attitude. :(

    Anyway, it's the Net and what it does to communication that's got me down, man, not you.

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  11. "I hope very sincerely that you don't think I was recommending (or expecting, or desiring) any kind of one-true-way attitude. :("

    No, no. Not at all. I was more bewailing the fact that I lack a comfortably precise label for whatever it is I do. Past practice from the Bad Ol' Days would be to call it "the Right Way". Although I use "retro" and "old school" as terms all the time, frankly I tire at the connotation that my way of gaming is somehow archaic or out of fashion. That's why I'm considering going with Adventurism or Adventure Gaming to describe this thing of ours.

    Also, I've read the Risus Companion and have accepted the good news of "There no wrong way to play".

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  12. Aldreth has ONE major problem: it's classic Traveller combat, so it's deadly. So either magic is minor, or nonexistent.

    On the other hand, the more I think about it, it's like Iron Heroes, but 20 years ago.

    If I get brave enough to pull up a game, I'll call you :)

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